Parkers Heritage Malt

Last year, when Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage Collection release came out, I characterized their annual offering as “like a box of boozy chocolate… you never know what you’re gonna get.” Indeed, last year’s version was a wheat whiskey – a fabulous, awesome wheat whiskey – and the years before that saw a “lovely selection of ten year old bourbon… an 11 year old cask strength small batch… a 27 ! year old… a cognac-finished… you get the idea. Box of chocolates.” This year, the ninth version of the collection, we get a Kentucky malt whiskey.

A KENTUCKY malt whiskey? When you read that, you’re probably thinking that would be the one piece of chocolate that bourbon fans would eye warily in the box – the piece that lingers long after the other chocolates have been eagerly snapped up. Malt whiskey is something that they do very well over in Scotland, and even in Japan, but good old Kentucky? There are a growing number of American malt whiskeys, especially of the craft variety – Stranahan’s is a great example, and other notables include Westland, Cut Spike, Balcones, Hillrock, St. George, Hudson, and Corsair. But Kentucky distillers? They’ve mainly stuck to bourbon and rye.

Parkers Heritage Malt

This year’s Parker’s Heritage release started with an experimental run of 141 barrels of whiskey that master distiller Craig Beam put up in November 2006 – at 65% malted barley and 35% corn. It sat for a bit over eight years in new charred oak barrels (on the relatively high 5th and 7th floors of Heaven Hill’s Rickhouse Y for all you barrel geeks) before being bottled at 108 proof, with no chill filtering. Co-master distiller Denny Potter noted that Heaven Hill has “always prided ourselves on the high percentage of barley malt in our straight bourbons and ryes” – so there is a reason they decided to try out a more malt-centric whiskey so many years ago.

Will the market be clamoring for a Kentucky malt whiskey? I don’t know. But last year’s Parker’s Heritage wheat whiskey certainly showed the demand for a unique, well-made Kentucky whiskey that’s neither bourbon nor rye. Props again to Heaven Hill for pushing the whiskey envelope, and for supporting a good cause in the process (a portion of proceeds again benefits ALS research). So on to the tasting notes…

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